Breathe Deep

Author's Notes: This is Nick/Sara, but if you're looking for warm fuzzies and happy endings this isn't the story for you. I was inspired to write this piece when reading Kerlin's very sadly beautiful story, Fade to Black, despite having decided just a few days earlier that I wasn't going to write anymore Nick/Sara. I have no willpower.

"Breathe deep the gathering gloom. Watch lights fade from every room."

Nights in White Satin, The Moody Blues


It wasn't like it was something they had planned. If either of them had stopped to think it wouldn't have happened at all. He had tried, of course, a half hearted protest that had been swallowed by their kiss and he had said nothing else. Like some slow motion silent movie, they lost themselves so easily. She left before he woke, just got in her car and drove. She pulled up to the curb in front of her apartment, sat staring straight ahead for an hour, and only when Mrs. Paley's curtains kept pulling back so she could watch her with wary eyes did she go inside.

That night at work they said nothing about it. At first, she almost thought that the mix of alcohol and little sleep had left him without the memory—but when they got too close she saw it. That knowledge in his eyes, and she knew she had been burned into his skin, just like he had been burned into hers. They didn't see each other outside of work for weeks, no last minute breakfast together, no going over to his place on weekends to watch old movies and pull them apart. It was an unspoken agreement between them, a shared fear that it might happen again.

And she had never intended to let it happen again. It wasn't fair to either of them, because she wanted someone she couldn't have, and he was only in love with his idea of her. She was always uncomfortable under his gaze, like something beneath one of their microscopes, only instead of seeing things clearer he saw things that weren't there. He thought she was so much better than she was, and she didn't want to be his angel. He deserved so much more than serving as her tourniquet.

When he was chosen for the promotion over her she was happy for him, she really was, and she was happy for herself too because then at least she knew—she knew where she stood with Grissom and she knew it wasn't going to change. And when she was in trouble, drunk driving, they said, Grissom showed up to put her together. Some part of her realized she should have been mortified because these things weren't supposed to happen to her, she was the A student, she was the know-it-all. She didn't drive drunk.

Grissom was warm and supportive and sweet, and she'd wished he'd leave her alone. She wished she hadn't been pulled over and that she had driven off into the desert with no one to stop her, and just drove until she ran out of gas and there was no way back.

Grissom offered to stay with her. She'd thought, 'Go to hell,' and said"No, thanks." The door had barely closed behind him and she was reaching for the phone, dialing Nick's number. His voice was thick with sleep and his accent when he answered, and hers was filled with unshed tears when she said his name.

He was on her doorstep ten minutes later, his eyes concerned and so damn kind that she wanted to scream, but she pulled him inside and kissed him instead. He didn't stop her, though at first he just stood there, either shocked or maybe scared, and let her push him back up against her door.

Another minute and his hands were resting at her hips, he was kissing her back, and she tasted tears. She couldn't be sure, but she didn't think they were all hers.

He was gone when she woke up, returning the favor she had paid him, but it was harder that night at work to pretend that nothing had changed. Weeks would pass and they would get better at it, get better at keeping those parts separate, though neither would master it completely.

He never initiated them, their little rendezvous. Sometimes she'd hold off, just to see if he would call her but he never did, never asked for anything. But he always came when she called, and she kept calling, because Grissom turns her down and Nick never does and she needs that. She needed to be wanted, needed to be touched. She tried not to think what it did to him, and she didn't really want to know why he needed it as much as she did.

They never really said anything in their encounters. There were no 'I love you's and she didn't miss them. She never said his name, either, because she was afraid if she did it would be the wrong one. She didn't know why he never said hers, and she didn't ask.

They had only ever really talked about what they were doing once. They were at Warrick's apartment, for his birthday, and Nick had brought a date. She was jealous without a right to be, because she hadn't asked Nick, she had asked Grissom to drive together with her, but he had told her he wasn't going and she was forced to go alone. She cornered him in the hallway later that night, while Catherine talked about something she couldn't have cared less about with Karen, that was the name of his pretty little date, and she locked them in the bathroom and asked him if was going to come over after the dinner.

He had told her he was taking Karen out and she'd suddenly felt like crying. Maybe Nick had thought she was being manipulative because he had looked irritated, and he shook her off and ran a hand through his hair. "We're not in a relationship, Sara," he'd snapped, and it was the most emotion she'd seen from him in months.

"This isn't a relationship" he had said, quieter, and though she said nothing she couldn't disagree. "I can't keep doing this."

But he couldn't stop, either, and neither could she. So the next day it was the same, and at the lab they worked side by side and never said a word.

If the others had noticed they said nothing. She didn't think they knew, because they were careful and Nick was the same as he used to be when he was around them. She saw him sometimes, through glass partitions, with Catherine or Warrick, and she would watch him because she missed his smile—she didn't get to see it much anymore, and if he'd known she was watching he would have stopped.

She missed him. They spent more and more time together and she'd never felt so alone. He shut down around her now, and she missed their friendship, and as much as she lived off of their encounters part of her wished things were back how they were, and that he would flirt with her like it was a game again—but she'd broken the rules, because she was never supposed to let him catch her.

It wasn't fair to him, this new game, she knew. She kept wanting all of him while giving nothing of herself and it just wasn't possible—not with Grissom hanging between them both, like a black mark on her soul. She wondered sometimes why Nick let her do it. He could have almost anyone he wanted, he could find some nice girl that was much more deserving than her and just let himself be happy.

But then, it wasn't like he hadn't tried, and she'd taken that from him too. Whenever he had a date she would show up on his doorstep, crying, because she'd lost control again, so he would call up his date and cancel and he would stay with her instead. He would have talked her through it, talked her down, he would have tried his best to be a good friend—so she always kissed him the moment he hung up the phone, before he could tell her not to, and after, it was too late.

Eventually he just stopped making dates altogether. She'd been selfishly and secretively pleased, and she tried to ignore the way his eyes seemed sadder than they used to be.

When she calls now she doesn't even have to ask for him to know, and he's there before she gathers strength enough to hang up the phone. She sits there, while she waits for him, and thinks about the fantasies that used to run through her mind. At the start, when they were just beginning this little ritual of theirs, she used to imagine that Grissom would find out and be jealous and scared, and realize that he needed her, and they could be together—but she doesn't even have those, anymore, not now.

Because she knows now that if Grissom ever found out, if he knew, if any of them knew, they would be disgusted with her for what she had done. The weight of the job, a hundred different tragedies, had not been able to steal away Nick's smile.

And she'd done it with a kiss.

The End.